Colour in Turin

Giovanni Brino Colour in Turin Domus gennaio 1980 n.602

79/01.21 Domus -EN

Every year in Turin some 2,000 buildings are repainted, and half this number abusively. This massive environmental tampering has been going on for years with out any systematic criterion and very often without any control whatever. It has led to the gradual destruction of the original colour which was one of the distinguishing features of this city's image (as, at the end of the 19th and early 20th century, such attentive observers as Friedrich Nietzsche, Henry James and Edmondo De Amicis were still able to remark).
In order to put an end to this abuse, in December 1978, on the recommendation of the City Councilor for Building and Housing, Enzo Biffi Gentili, the Turin Municipality appointed a team, directed by the present writer, to draft a "City Colour Planning Scheme" (1).
In order to fully understand the significance and method of the plan proposed and subsequently appraise tire first results obtained, it is indispensable to note Turin's special historical situation. Turin, in fact, can boast perhaps the only example in the world of colour planned on an urban scale. Between 1800 and 1850 the Council of Builders developed and put into effect a veritable colour plan for the entire city, with environmental standards as well as surprisingly sophisticated and modern specifications.
The principal streets and squares of the city, characterised by uniform architecture (cfr. the "Colour Map" attached), were conceived according to a coordinated polychromatic system.
These "chromatic paths", leading to Piazza Castello, the city's ideal centre, are interconnected by a network of streets and squares which were coloured in such a way as to form a continuous and at the same time varied sequence of about eighty different colours.
After 1845, in order to further rationalize the colour question, the Council of Builders made public the city's "Colour Palette" (to use a term coined by the colourist Jean Philippe Lenclos) developed in the course of nearly half a century of checking applications for painting, by having all the most recurrent colours (about twenty) painted in the courtyard of the Municipal Building.
These colours were then numbered in progressive order so that they could be unequivocally coded.
This infinitely extendible "Colour Palette" became the point of reference for planner and for the Council of Builders, and indeed from then on, colours were directly designated in official documents by their corresponding numbers.
The proposed scheme is based on a critical reconstruction of the nineteenth century plan extended, through appropriate adaptations and revisions, to the whole territory of Turin.
Thanks to an incredible mass of documents, projects and paint samples, it has been possible to reconstruct the original "Colour Map" of the city and its corresponding “Colour Palette", and to create an "Archive of Colouring Models" most in use, as well as proper standards so as to be able to apply a plan which can also realistically take current technologies into account. The experience of a year's work on a sample of about 700 buildings, on a simple "Consulting" basis, has demonstrated that it is possible to carry out this plan - founded upon historical assumptions - in accordance with industrial methods, and with virtually co complete agreement on the part of owners, contractors and manufactures. The illustrations show the first experimental results of the plan.

The attached colour map is a conceptual (and hence a schematic) visualization, reconstructed from archive documents, of the nineteenth century colour plan for Turin limited to the royal routes leading to Piazza Castello, the city's centre.
Besides this network of main streets and squares, the colour of which has been fixed unmistakably, there also exists a complete connective fabric of secondary roads and squares (which are not shown on the map for reasons of conciseness), the colour of which has been fixed more flexibly, although coordinated with the royal routes shown on the map. As can be seen in the colour routes shown on the map, the continuity of the yellow gives unity to the system as a whole (and gave rise to the so-called "Turin Yellow"), and contrasts with the extreme variety of colours associated with it. For example, in Piazza Vittorio and in Piazza della Gran Madre (conceived as a single setting to frame the church of Gran Madre di Dio), the yellow (molasses) is matched with a greenish hue. In Via Po, which is connected to Piazza Vittorio by means of a "rondeau", this yellow and greenish colour is intensified by the pale grey of the background perspective. In Piazza Castello, the greenish colour disappears leaving the other two colours, though paler (yellowish and a blueish-grey); in Via Garibaldi and in Piazza Savoia the yellow (canary-yellow this time) is associated with shady ground or with another colour ad libitum so as not to engender monotony, whilst in the later Piazza Statuto the original yellow, red and grey, visible to this day, are dominant (,one of the few surviving cases). In Via Milano and in Piazza della Repubblica (the original project for its decoration by Blachier exists in the Municipal Historic Achives), the yellow is combined with a light grey. In Piazza San Carlo (the original Via Roma no longer exists) the yellowish colour of the background is associated with a red-brown colour on the friezes, still visible in the archways of the porticoes at the Academia Filarmonica. Finally, in Piazza Carlo Felice and in the streets around Porta Nuova, yellow and grey frame the red, white and grey railway station, still in a perfect state of conservation.